New Northern franchise to include fleet of ‘newly built’ trains

The north is to receive a fleet of “newly-built” diesel or battery powered trains by 2020 according to the Invitation to Tender for the new Northern and TransPennine franchises sent out today.

The documentation specifies that the new franchisee must modernise the fleet of Northern trains, replacing the Pacers and bringing into service a minimum of 120 new carriages for non-electrified routes.

The ITT for Northern says: “These must be newly-built (not re-using components from existing rolling stock) and, unless the Bidder intends for them to be hauled by a locomotive, must be capable of operating under their own power for significant distances on non-electrified routes.”

This would rule appear to rule out the Porterbrook Class 144e upgraded Pacer, as well as the Vivarail D-Train, which is made from old London Underground stock converted into a DEMU.

359  RHX2138(Battery powered IPEMU in use in Anglia. Image source: Network Rail)

In addition to a DMU the tender also gives the option of using an IPEMU, such as the converted Class 379 Electrostar being trialled in the Anglia Franchise. Bombardier reconfigured the train to enable the installation and integration of an operational traction battery system.

David Clarke, RSSB Director of Innovation, said: “The recent trial in East Anglia, funded by Network Rail and the FutureRailway programme, has convincingly shown that the technology works and IPEMU can offer a lower cost electrified service. We are delighted to see that the Northern franchise specification recognises that the IPEMU (or ‘battery powered train’ as it is also known) has the potential to be part of improving train services for Northern customers.”

Per Allmer of Bombardier Transportation said: “The IPEMU demonstrates what battery technology offers the rail industry. Following extensive design and testing work, the train has now successfully begun a trial passenger service, proving the viability of the concept. It’s a technology we can incorporate onto future new-build trains, such as our Bombardier Aventra platform and retro-fit into existing modern rail vehicles, adding value to existing fleets.” 

In addition to new trains, the Northern tender also requires the modernising of every existing train in the fleet. The headline improvements that are required by 2020 are wi-fi on all trains and power sockets or USB charging points at a minimum of one socket for every two seats.

The Northern tender also specifies fixed or folding tables at a minimum of 90% of seats, air conditioning and heating systems and upgraded luggage space.

Away from rolling stock, the Department for Transport wants the new franchise to provide more off-peak and Sunday services for passengers, double the number of services on many of the routes and invest at least £30m on station improvements.

Another requirement is the creation of a Customer and Communities Improvement Fund (CCIF) to invest around £13.8m to deliver benefits for passengers.


The TransPennine Express tender also includes a provision to ensure all trains in the fleet are wi-fi enabled by 2020, as well as providing earlier and later services and more services on Sundays.

Bidders would have to show how they would introduce extra capacity for passengers through more carriages, increased frequencies or more services.

The DfT also wants to see options for new services such as links between Liverpool and Scotland, Crewe to Manchester Airport and extending Newcastle services to Edinburgh.

On rolling stock, the tender specifies that the new TransPennine franchisee lease the current fleet of 10 four-car Class 350 EMUs until at least 19 September 2018, and sub-lease rolling stock to Northern until December 2017.

There is no specified replacement for the Class 170 vehicles that will depart for Chiltern, only the requirement that the franchisee “lease such other rolling stock as the Secretary of State may reasonably require in consequence”.

The tender document adds: “Bidders are to assume for bid purposes that they will inherit a lease for four two-car DMUs of comparable capacity and other characteristics to the class 170 vehicles. Bidders must assume that this lease would expire on the timetable change date in December 2017.”


It goes on to say that only the following rolling stock may be proposed by bidders for inclusion within the TPE Train Fleet:

  • The Class 185 and Class 350 multiple units that are currently comprised within the TPE Train Fleet (subject to the requirement to sub-lease Class 185 units to the Northern Franchise for an initial period until December 2017);
  • Diesel multiple units that are not Class 14x, Class 15x or Class 17x and that are currently leased by a relevant operator other than the current TPE and Northern franchisees, but that will be demonstrably surplus to the requirements of that operator;
  • Vehicles of Class 442 following their release from the TSGN franchise; and
  • Any new-build rolling stock that the Bidder commits to procure.

Announcing the invitations to tender, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This is great news for passengers across the north, who will finally get a rail service that matches up to the booming economy in this region. That means more seats, more services and a brand new fleet of modern trains. Unlike the last Northern franchise in 2004, which included limited plans to invest in services or meet demand, this deal will maintain investment and grow to fit the needs of passengers for years to come.

“Together with the £1bn investment we are making to improve the region’s railways and our plans to link east and west through HS3, our railways are making the region an economic powerhouse.”

Chair of Rail North, Sir Richard Leese, added that the ITT was only the beginning. “The invitations to tender specify the minimum required from the new franchisees, and Rail North will continue to push for greater enhancements in future years which will help deliver regional economic growth by helping people get to jobs faster, in comfort and affordably.”

Norhter and TPE 4 c. Joshua Brown(Image source: Joshua Brown)

However not everyone is so positive about the proposed plans. Rail unions have already blasted the ITT as a “pre-election stunt”.

Mick Cash RMT general secretary said: "These plans are being spun by Nick Clegg and the Tories in a pre-election stunt that they claim will modernise rail services in the North when in reality they will condemn passengers to poor quality, unsafe and destaffed services for years to come.”

He added: "Any new trains are light years away with passengers forced to endure the misery of the clapped out Pacers, and the ancient London Underground rolling stock that's heading north‎, way off into the future. 

"Far from the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ rhetoric of George Osborne these plans condemn the north to third class rail services for years to come and are smeared in PR gloss about new trains that is all jam tomorrow.”

The government previously announced which companies had been shortlisted in the competition to run the two franchises last August.

For the Northern franchise, these are:

  • Abellio Northern Ltd
  • Arriva Rail North Limited
  • Govia Northern Limited

For the TransPennine Express franchise these are:

  • First TransPennine Express Limited
  • Keolis Go-Ahead Limited
  • Stagecoach TransPennine Express Trains Limited

A spokesman for FirstGroup, who currently and are bidding to continue to run the TransPennine franchise, said: "Since the franchise began, the team at First TransPennine Express have worked hard to introduce more capacity with brand new trains, increased frequency and improved journey times and as a result the service is more popular than ever, with 26 million passengers last year compared to 13 million in 2004. We are currently in negotiations with the DfT concerning a direct award to continue this successful operation of First TransPennine Express to April 2016 and these talks are progressing well."

Bidders for the TransPennine Express franchise have until 28 May 2015 to submit their bids. For Northern, the deadline is 26 June 2015.

(Top image source: Alex Thorkildsen)

Related articles:

McLoughlin overrules officials who called Pacer replacement ‘poor value’

Slow electrification means up to 500 more diesels needed

Government admits ‘uncertainty’ over TransPennine electrification

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


George   28/02/2015 at 16:41

Being a regular commuter in the North West, I'm obviously pleased to hear about this ITT however I think I'm with the unions on this one. If schemes and rolling stock orders are swinging into action (to the extent that's been promised!) beyond the General Election then I'll be satisfied.

Mikeyb   01/03/2015 at 15:46

It would be excellent to have a fleet of new-build DMUs in service by 2020 but one question needs to be answered - who is likely to build them? Will Bombardier be prepared to re-open their Turbostar line for what will only be a short run of 120 vehicles or can they produce a diesel version of their new Aventra design? Alternatively will the new train be an improved version of Siemen's Class 185 or a totally new design from, say, the merged CSR/CNR builders in China? It is surely going to be at least a couple of years before the new franchisee can place any order and therefore, Pacers are bound to be around for another five or six years at least.

Paul   01/03/2015 at 17:35

I read it like this. The refurbished D78s replace Pacers as soon as they become available. The D78s then have 5 - 8 years of working life whilst the new-build trains are designed and constructed. Thus the Pacer DDA non-compliance issue is addressed, the train manufacturers get the lead in time they need and the government 'keeps' its promises, save some issues about the newly built trains' delivery date. In this way, we'd have the Pacers for a while longer, but is there an alternative?

Neil Palmer   02/03/2015 at 08:15

So reading the section below "It goes on to say that only the following rolling stock may be proposed by bidders for inclusion within the TPE Train Fleet" it appears they have specifically ruled out any surplus ScotRail 156's, 158's or 170's. As to whether or not VIvaRail's D-trains are ruled out will depend on a politician's definition of "new-build". I suppose they could say a D-Train is "newly built", using existing rust-free body shells and reconditioned bogies. As for Porterbrook's Pacer rejuvenation, that seems a non-starter. Maybe they can sell them to some cash strapped overseas railway. Of course this applies to Northern and TPE. Nothing to say reconditioned Pacer's (and D-trains) may not be sent to Wales, the SouthWest, etc.

Mikeyb   05/03/2015 at 17:06

As stated in the article, there is a condition in the franchise that the successful bidder must provide 120 "brand-new" diesel-powered carriages, as opposed to reworked or refurbished. This definitely rules out the D78s or other DMUs cascaded from elsewhere. However, as I said previously, who is going to build them?

Steved   26/01/2016 at 10:04

CAF apparently, in Spain, announced this week, 281 units.

RTM   26/01/2016 at 10:14

Yes indeed Steve, we have a big story about it elsewhere on the site. Big news!

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